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Archive for November, 2014

Is It A Sweet Potato Or A Yam?

Thanksgiving is only 2 days away and we want to help clear up the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. Trying to figure this out can be very confusing when you’re at the grocery store.  The U.S. government decided to label sweet potatoes by their color to make things easier but it just ended up confusing everyone more.  The creamy white flesh ones are labeled sweet potatoes and the orange fleshed ones are sometimes labeled yams.  The USDA requires that sweet potatoes labeled as yams also be labeled as sweet potatoes. Chances are likely that you are buying sweet potatoes regardless of what the label says.

In reality sweet potatoes and yams are two totally different vegetables.  Yams are tubers and are usually found imported in ethnic markets in the United States. They are originally from Africa, where over 95% of the world’s crop is harvested, and Asia.  Yams are grown in tropical climates and are very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean.  A few varieties can grow up to 7 feet in length and weigh almost 200 pounds! The skin of a yam is rough and scaly and the taste is very starchy.  Yams are an extremely important part in the diet of the people in Nigeria and West Africa.  Yams provide more than 200 calories per person per day for more than 150 million people in West Africa while also providing a necessary income for local farmers.  Yams are high in vitamin C and B and potassium and low in saturated fat and sodium.  The flavor can sometimes be sweeter than a sweet potato depending on the variety.

Sweet Potatoes are thought to originate in either Central or South America at least 5,000 years ago.  In the U.S. they are grown in temperate climate zones.  North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.  In California 80% of the sweet potatoes are grown in Merced County followed by Fresno and Stanislaus County. When you sit down for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner you will be eating sweet potatoes regardless of their color.

There are 4 main types of sweet potatoes grown. The orange flesh varieties become moist when cooked and the white flesh varieties become dry when cooked with a crumbly texture similar to a baked white potato. The Garnet is the classic sweet potato that most people think of when making mashed sweet potatoes, pies, cakes and breads.

  1. Red Skin/Orange Flesh (Varieties include Dianas, Reds & Garnets)
  2. Orange Skin/Orange Flesh (varieties include the Beauregard, Covington & Jewel)
  3. White Skin/White Cream Flesh (Varieties include the O’Henry, Jersey Sweet, Hannas or Hanna Golds)
  4. Red Skin/White Flesh (Varieties include the Murasaki & Kotobuki-most commonly referred to as “Orientals”)
A few examples of sweet potatoes from Earl’s

Sweet potatoes are relatively low in calories and have no fat. They are rich in beta-carotene , having five times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A in one sweet potato, as well as loaded with potassium. These nutrients help to protect against heart attack and stroke.

As you can imagine sweet potatoes are consumed the most during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter.  Try these wonderful recipes from Food and Wine Magazine. What is your favorite recipe for sweet potatoes during the holidays?  Please share your favorite recipes on our Facebook wall.

Side Hill Citrus Satsuma Mandarins

Satsuma Mandarins herald the start of the varietal citrus season in California and we feel that Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln in the Sacramento foothills, have the perfect balance of tart and sweet flavors. The combination of a higher elevation of 600 feet, nutrient filled organic clay soil, warm summer days and cool nights and using a Satsuma Owari rootstock from China all contribute to growing consistently delicious Satsuma Mandarins year after year.

Rich Ferreira, a 4th generation farmer bought 17 acres in 1975 with only 100 Satsuma trees and in 1991 he became certified organic and has grown to over 2000 Satsuma trees on 48 acres. Satsumas can withstand cold weather as low as 20 degrees which helps to bring out the incredible flavor in the fruit and the bright orange color.  Last year California had a big freeze at the beginning of December and fortunately for Rich his fruit was not damaged. Side Hill is  located on a sloping hill which offers natural air flow protection during the colder months. This natural air flow prevents the cold air from settling on the citrus and frost from forming. The orchard also faces south, allowing the trees to receive energy from the sunlight and at the same time warming up the soil, helping to prevent frost.

Satsuma tree cropped

When harvesting his Satsuma mandarins, Rich will go through his orchard up to 10 times to pick the best pieces of fruit. He color hand picks each piece, resulting in a full color, highly flavored, sweet piece of fruit going to market.  Satusmas are the perfect snacking food with no seeds and an easy to peel skin. You can eat them on the go and not worry about making a sticky mess. 

How To Pick and Store Satsumas

Look for Satsumas with an aromatic smell, firm tight peel, no dented spots and a heavier fruit means they are juicier. They can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, but not for too long because prolonged storage can dry them out.

Stay Healthy!

A 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture study said Satsumas have six to seven times as much synephrine, a natural decongestant, as other citrus. Four or five Satsumas have enough synephrine to equal the effect of a Sudafed tablet, the study said. Satsumas are also naturally low in calories and a single fruit contains 34 percent of the USDA daily recommendation for vitamin C.  So stay healthy this winter and pack a few in your lunch or for a snack during the day.  The season is now and only runs through the beginning of January. 

Side Hill Citrus Satsumas

Satsumas are a holiday favorite for the Earl’s crew. Susan the Marketing Manager’s specialty is a Side Car Satsuma cocktail that is easy to make when friends drop by.  Randy, our resident chef and Fruit Buyer loves to mix Satsuma juice with tequila. Brian, a Sales Associate recommends making a Hot Ginger Satsuma tea to stay warm during the freeze.

Don’t miss the 20th annual Mandarin Festival this weekend, November 21st-24th, in Auburn, CA at the Gold County Fairgrounds. Sample Mandarins from local growers and try a fun variety of Mandarin inspired food including mandarin shakes, chocolate dipped mandarins, mandarin dessert pizza and more.

California Valencia Season Ending

California Valencia season is winding down fast and quantities are limited. Get them while you can! The transition to Mexican Valencias will start up Thanksgiving week. Expect a drastic change in flavor profiles from late season Californian fruit that is low in acid and high in sugar, to an early Mexican piece of fruit with high acid and low sugar. With all citrus, as the season gets going the fruit will sweeten up. Earl’s Organic has this Mexican deal every year and we feel the fruit is quite good.

VALENCIA ORANGE

While you are waiting for the Mexican fruit to sweeten up try mixing Satsumas with the Mexican Valencias for a nice blend of sweet and tart. We can expect to see the California Valencias make their return in the spring time around April.

While I was writing this blog I noticed that the California Valencia season ended about a month later the last few years.  Although many factors come into fruit production, we know for a fact these past few seasons have had lower chill hours and rainfall.  Only time will tell how this winter will shape up. You can count on Earl’s to give you seasonal produce updates.

Cranberries

Bright round cranberries bring up visions of Fall, baked goods and meals with friends and family. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and is not complete without a side dish of sweet and tart cranberry sauce. Read our full blog here.

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Plump Red Cranberries

Bright round cranberries bring up visions of Fall, baked goods and meals with friends and family. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and is not complete without a side dish of sweet and tart cranberry sauce. Perhaps you have seen the TV commercials where a man is standing waist deep in water floating with cranberries and wondered how cranberries grow.

Cranberries contrary to popular belief are not grown in water but on vines planted in bogs with a mixture of moist acid peat soil and sand which allows them to thrive in harsh weather conditions. Cranberries were introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts in the early 1800’s and the first farmed cranberries were grown in Cape Cod.  Over half of the United States crop is grown in Wisconsin. Massachusetts is the second largest producer followed by New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.  Eastern Canada’s cooler weather is especially ideal for growing organic cranberries and more than 80% of the organic cranberries are grown in Quebec.

Fruit d’Or has been growing organic cranberries for over 20 years in Quebec. The Le Moine family had a dream to grow cranberries as a retirement plan.  They partnered with another family to form one of the first certified organic cranberry farms in Quebec.  Fruit d’Or is now comprised of over 25 families and is the largest supplier of fresh and dried organic cranberries in Canada.

Quebec’s cold weather helps to prevent fungus from forming, which is a big problem in warmer climates such as Southern Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The cold weather, just like with citrus, also helps to bring out the full flavor and deep color of the fruit. Quebec also has very acidic sandy soil that is a natural defense against weeds. Any weeds that do manage to grow are picked by hand. Fruit d’or grows the Stevens variety which grows well in extreme weather conditions and sizes up to a nice large berry.

Harvesting Fresh Cranberries Photo property of Fruit d'Or

Harvesting Fresh Cranberries. Photo property of Fruit d’Or

Once the vines are planted they can continue to produce for about 20 years. Fruit d’Or has some vines that are still producing even after 20 years. In the winter a layer of ice forms over the bogs and protects them.  When spring rolls around tractors deposit sand on the ice so that when the ice melts the sand disperses evenly into the bog, creating new roots, thereby bringing nutrients to the fruit.  Biodiversity is encouraged by planting wild flowers next to the bogs to create a natural habitat for the bees.

Fruit d’Or harvests cranberries only when a beautiful red color forms over the entire piece of fruit. The top of the fruit turns red first because it is exposed to the sun, while the bottom of the fruit can still be white or green. According to Marie-Michèle Le Moine, the daughter of founder Martin Le Moine, “It is a dance trying to get the right color. We choreograph the harvest so that all the growers have the right color.” They will harvest each bog only when the berries are at their peak color. Cranberries on the vine

Growing cranberries uses an incredible amount of water. Fruit d’Or is committed to sustainability and uses a closed loop irrigation system. The bogs are flooded when they are ready for harvest from mid-September to mid-October with water from a reservoir area that is kept full throughout the year with snow melt.  The bogs are separated by levies and drained from one to the other as they are harvested, recycling the water and eventually feeding the water back into the original reservoir. After the field is flooded a slow moving gentle harvester similar to a lawn mower rows back and forth, fluffing up the vines to catch the cranberries. The berries will then float to the surface because they have tiny air pockets inside them.  Booms are used to collect the berries so they don’t float away. When harvesting for fresh fruit versus dried fruit, they don’t want the cranberries to be in the water too long.  The cranberries are pulled up onto a conveyer belt in the bog and then transferred to little boats. From there the berries are taken to be cleaned and then air dried to take the water off the surface. The berries are then packed and shipped. If the berries are to be dried they can be in the water a little longer. Thinning nets skim cranberries off the top of the water, collecting them into tubs and then pulling by tractor to the processing facility, only a cranberries throw away from the bogs. Watch how cranberries are harvested and cleaned in this video from Fruit d’Or.   

Great idea for the holiday!

Fresh cranberries can be found in your grocery store through the holidays.  Marie-Michèle Le Moine loves eating her cranberries raw. She compared the acidity to that of a MacIntosh apple.  One of her favorite recipes for the holiday season is to dip them in milk chocolate and freeze for 5 minutes. The large size of the Fruit d’Or berries makes this an easy and fun activity.

Nutrition Information

Cranberries are high in vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E. Cranberries are said to help prevent urinary tract infections, improve immune function and decrease blood pressure. One half of cup of cranberries has only 25 calories! Cranberries are sold fresh for the holidays, frozen, canned, made into juice and dried fruit. They are delicious baked into muffins or breads, added to stuffing and of course made into cranberry sauce. I like to pair my cranberries with Satsuma juice and chopped up peel from Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln, CA.  Post your favorite cranberry recipe on our Facebook page. Everyone at Earl’s wishes you a very Happy and Bountiful Thanksgiving!

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